Every day, we produce waste materials. Some of these can pose a real threat to public health or the environment. These require some sort of processing or treatment before they end up in a landfill.
But which of the following is not considered a hazardous waste? How do we determine what type of materials are relatively safe for outright disposal and which requires post-processing?
Before identifying which waste materials are considered non-hazardous and hazardous, we should differentiate them first. While there are other special kinds of waste materials that require different classification and regulations (i.e. nuclear waste, large-scale industrial waste, etc.), these are beyond the scope. Thus, we will just tackle non-hazardous and hazardous waste materials that the general public generates in a daily basis.
Defining Non-Hazardous Solid Wastes
In the United States, solid waste, or municipal solid waste, is your usual trash or garbage. It is rubbish that consists of items that the public use every day and throw away. These wastes vary from one municipality to another, changing over time.
Note that industrial, agricultural, and radioactive wastes as well as sewage sludge are not included as municipal solid waste materials. Non-hazardous solid wastes include the following:
How does a local government unit process solid waste material? Often, it goes through a series of steps.
Municipal waste collectors often follow a schedule on collecting wastes from residents. Also, there are often pickup points, usually at the curbside or trash chutes, where residents can deposit their garbage for the waste collectors to pick up.
Waste is first transported to a transfer station by a smaller collection vehicle. Once the wastes are sorted and segregated, they are loaded into a larger vehicle. This larger vehicle then transports the waste to the processing facility or disposal site.
Waste Handling And Segregation
Before processing or final disposal, waste is often segregated. Recyclable materials, for example, are extracted from organics and non-recyclable wastes. Segregated wastes are often placed in containers, ready to be shipped to a recycling facility, incinerator plant, or landfill.
Processed, segregated wastes that are not recyclable are then burned in an incineration plant. The resulting ash is then deposited in a landfill. Some wastes that are not burned are compacted before they are dumped in a landfill.
Managing municipal solid waste material has four distinct components, following a hierarchy ranking strategy that was formulated by the EPA. This waste management hierarchy is ordered from the most preferred to the least preferred action. The hierarchy is as follows:
Solid Waste Exclusion
There are waste materials that are not defined as solid wastes. Reasons may include economic impacts, public policies, insufficient data, regulations by other laws, or the impracticality of regulating such kinds of waste. The exclusion of these kinds of wastes stems from an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule or a Congressional action.
Excludes wastes include the following, although certain wastes types continue to be added to this list:
Defining Hazardous Wastes
Hazardous wastes are waste materials that pose potential or considerable threats to public health or the environment. In accordance with the EPA guidelines, all hazardous waste materials exhibit one or more of these characteristics:
Federal agencies and state departments with jurisdictions over public health, sanitation, disease control, and environment protection often enact regulations to manage hazardous waste management. They also list down what materials constitute hazardous waste. Hazardous wastes can be liquid, solid, or gaseous.
Hazardous wastes should not be discarded by common means. Depending on the physical state and characteristics of the hazardous waste material, various processes such as treatment, sanitizing, solidification, and others may be required before final disposal.
In the US, there are two categories of hazardous wastes:
1. Universal hazardous waste
As per the federal US EPA in 40 CFR 273.9, universal wastes are hazardous wastes containing very common materials. In general, they pose a lower level of threat compared to other kinds of hazardous wastes that are produced in large quantities by special generators such as hospitals and laboratories.
Examples of universal wastes include:
In most cases, universal wastes are subject to somewhat more relaxed regulations with regards to handling, storage, and disposal. In any case, universal wastes must still be properly disposed of.
2. Household Hazardous Wastes
Household hazardous wastes (HHWs) are known by several names: home-generated special materials, domestic hazardous materials, or retail hazardous waste. These are hazardous wastes generated from residences. Note that the definition of HHW is only applicable to materials that are sold, labeled, and used for home use. Thus, waste materials generated from offices and industrial facilities are not considered HHWs even though these are products that can be used in a home setting.
Examples of HHWs include the following:
Hazardous Waste Exclusions
If a certain waste material meets an exclusion requirement from the definition of hazardous waste as per the EPA, it is not regulated as a hazardous waste. That is even if the material shows a characteristic that makes it hazardous, (i.e., ignitable, reactive, corrosive, or toxic).
Some of these excluded materials include the following. Again, the list constantly changes as more materials are added or taken off the list.
How to Reduce Waste
The most effective way to control the flow of non-hazardous waste is to reduce wastes right at the start, which is in your very own household. Here are some tips on how to do just that:
Waste material is still waste, even though it is labeled non-hazardous. Even though it won’t personally affect you, large amounts of non-hazardous waste can pollute the land, occupy space in landfills, and overburden our garbage collectors. As such, we need to be responsible in reducing, managing, segregating, and disposing of our waste for a much healthier and cleaner environment.